Formula 1 2017 team preview: Scuderia Ferrari

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Formula 1’s oldest and most successful team, Scuderia Ferrari, enters 2017 after a rare, barren season that yielded not a single victory.

The new regime at Maranello enjoyed a strong start in 2015 with three race wins, only for the honeymoon to end last season as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen struggled to handle the pace of the rival Mercedes and Red Bull drivers.

Despite 2016’s struggles, Ferrari had one of the most impressive pre-seasons in recent memory, lighting up the timesheets in Barcelona – but will it be enough for a title challenge?

DRIVERS

5. Sebastian Vettel (Germany)
7. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland)

CAR

Ferrari SF70H

ENGINE

Ferrari 062

TEAM CHIEFS

Maurizio Arrivabene (team principal)
Mattia Binotto (technical director)

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 10: Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during the final day of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 10, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

What went right in 2016: Not a huge amount. Ferrari’s early-season pace was impressive and it was able to challenge Mercedes on occasion – notably in Australia and Canada – but this faded away. Sebastian Vettel produced some impressive late-season displays in Mexico and Abu Dhabi. Otherwise, positives were pretty hard to find for the Italian marque.

What went wrong in 2016: Ferrari’s best chances for victory came early in the year, only for strategic blunders to cost Vettel a shot at winning in both Australia and Canada. As the season wore on, frustration bubbled away and the cracks began to show in the famed partnership with Sebastian Vettel. Every time Mercedes crumbled, it was Red Bull who took advantage, not Ferrari. The loss of James Allison midway through the year also didn’t help matters.

What’s changed for 2017: Instead of recruiting externally to replace Allison, engineer Mattia Binotto was promoted into Ferrari’s top technical role. Otherwise, things have been fairly stable at Maranello. Ferrari’s pre-season pace caught attention, and it appears the SF70H is a good car – that in itself is a huge, huge change for 2017. The SF16-H was noticeably tricky to drive. Already progress is clear.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: While a championship challenge will be the expectation from the Tifosi, the first target for Ferrari this year should be getting back in winner’s circle. Both Vettel and teammate Kimi Raikkonen have what it takes to win races – we’ve seen time and time again – and if they can carry the winter pace through to the season, and if the operational issues from 2016 are resolved, then we could see Ferrari back in the mix for another F1 crown.

MONTMELO, SPAIN – MARCH 09: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF70H on track during day three of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on March 9, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

MST PREDICTIONS

Luke Smith: A strong Ferrari is good for F1, such is its global presence and reputation. So if pre-season is anything to go by, 2017 could be a very good year for F1 indeed. James Allison may have left the team, but the SF70H is very much a beast of his creation. Both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were rapid and reliable through pre-season, suffering just a handful of on-track issues. While I think Ferrari could have the march on the field early on, I don’t think it will last the season. Vettel will win a few races, and I think even Kimi could score his first Ferrari victory since 2009, but the race will be against Red Bull to finish second in the constructors’.

Tony DiZinno: The need for success is desperate here, after a lackluster and underwhelming 2016 season. If you put a lot of stock in testing times, it’s great to be seeing Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen at the top of the charts. But they have been in testing before, and it hasn’t translated. A return to winning must be the first goal, along with getting a car that is sorted enough to contend for podiums regularly. Far too often podiums were a surprise, not expected, last season.

Kyle Lavigne: Scuderia Ferrari represents possibly the biggest unknown ahead of the 2017 campaign. To put it simply, the SF70H is fast. Actually, correction: the SF70H is very fast. Between Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari topped four of the eight testing days in Barcelona. The fastest time across the test came from Raikkonen, who turned a 1:18.634. Who was the driver he beat for the fastest overall time? Teammate Sebastian Vettel.

However, Ferrari were also quick in last year’s pre-season testing, but their season quickly unraveled and they finished a distant third in the constructor’s championship. If their “real world” pace matches their testing pace, then Ferrari has all the potential to supplant Mercedes at the top of the grid.

Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”